We want to share with you some basic orientation and travel tips in preparation for a more rewarding journey. Do study this orientation guide. It's based on years of experience and feedback from hundreds of returning tour participants.
Cuba entry documentation requirements
Valid passport, airline tickets, Cuban tourist card (Visa), Cuban Health Care Insurance document (supplied by Authentic Cuba Travel).
Luggage weight limits and restricted items
Cuba restricts total incoming luggage weight to 30 kilos (66 pounds). If you bring more you could be subject to a 10.00 CUC (Cuban Convertible Peso) surcharge per extra kilo (2.2 pounds). An additional 10-kilo (22 pound) allowance is made for donations of medicines and medical items.
You can take photographic and video cameras, personal DVD, PDA, CD and game device, cell phones, including ones that are GPS enabled (all are costly to use), laptops, MP3 players, hair dryers, electric shavers, binoculars, portable radio receivers, musical instruments, and sound recording devices FOR PERSONAL USE. If you take more than one of the above items, Cuban Customs may ask if you intend to leave them on the island. If you do, tariffs may apply. If you take more than the equivalent of $5,000 CAD in cash, you'll need to declare it.
Prescription medicines should remain in their original containers with labels intact.
Narcotics, explosives, pornography, anti-Cuba literature, stand-alone GPS devices, walkie-talkies, and items that might be considered weapons.
Internet and Telephones
You can take your laptop to Cuba without complications, but connecting it to the internet is difficult. If you want to access your email at your hotel, you'll have to use computers at its business center. Rates per hour vary between 5.00 and 10.00 CUC (Cuban Convertible Pesos). All internet access is limited to dial-up connection speeds.
The least expensive way to make international or local calls is on public ETECSA blue phones using ETECSA calling cards you must buy in Cuba. To call Canada you must dial 119 + 1 + (area code) + phone number. The cost is about $2.50 per minute.
We strongly discourage the use of hotel room phones for local or long distance calls, it can prove costly! If you call North America collect, the connection fee is about $10.00 plus $3.50 per minute.
Donations and Gifts
Cubans welcome and need donations.
Please consider focusing your donation efforts towards schools, teaching aids, student supplies, and toys for kids! These could include memory sticks, calculators, pens, markers, games, pencils, erasers, flashlights and note pads. Also appreciated are multiple vitamins (for children and adults), toothpaste, toothbrushes, soap, shampoo and good quality used clothing and shoes. Baseball bats, balls, gloves, caps and T-shirts are very popular!
Do not distribute donations on the street. Your guide will suggest schools and institutions in need.
NOTE. Please do not tip your guide, bus driver, chambermaids or restaurant staff with leftovers or gifts in place of money.
IMPORTANT. When entering Cuba do not declare any items you intend to leave behind as donations as it could result in lengthy delays and possible confiscation of materials. If your luggage is searched and you are questioned as to why you're bringing 100 pencils (for example), say, "they are for friends" and leave it at that. Luggage inspections rarely happen unless your bags exceed weight limits.
There are no public laundry facilities in Cuba. If you need laundry services, ask your chambermaid or hotel front desk. They'll give you costs and instructions for this service.
Electrical standards and time zone
Electricity in Cuba is 110 volts, 60Hz (same as Canada), however some hotels and resorts also have 220 volt service and outlets. An electrical adapter is rarely needed.
Eastern time is observed across Cuba, the same as Toronto, New York and Miami.
Arriving in Havana, your guide, bus driver and hotel
Your tour guide and bus driver will meet you at the airport. Once you collect your luggage and pass through Cuban Customs into the main airport lobby, your guide will have a sign displaying the name of your tour. Your guide will help you with currency exchange at the airport, ensure your luggage is put onto our bus, then take you to your hotel and assist with check-in.
The Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC) is the only currency used by island visitors. All goods and services are priced and paid for in the CUC. The CUC floats in value against world currencies. Exchange rates vary daily. Today's rates are based on 1.12 USD equals one CUC.
Participants should carefully evaluate daily spending needs prior to departure. A minimum of $50 per day is recommended. It is better to plan to take more money than to get caught short of funds.
Change your money into CUC at a bank, your hotel, or at a CADECA (Casas de Cambio SA, exchange bureau). Never exchange your money on the street or through an individual Cuban (including your guide).
Credit cards and travelers checks issued by Canadian and European banks are accepted (AMEX is never accepted!). But please confirm with your bank before you depart as regulations change constantly. Canadian travelers If you have a MasterCard issued by a credit union or caisse populaire it won't work in Cuba. Contact your branch for more information.
Cash advance and other transaction fees on credit cards in Cuba can run as high as 10% or more, plus the exchange fee.
Credit cards and travelers checks issued by US banks are not accepted. Debit cards do not work in Cuba.
A photocopy of your passport is sufficient identification. However, your actual passport is necessary when conducting banking transactions in Cuba. The Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC) can only be purchased in Cuba. Spend it or exchange it on the island before you return home.
Tipping in Cuba
Give tips in CUC (the money Cubans can spend on the things they need). If you make a special friend, then a nice gift is appropriate, together with personal things you don't need to take home.
We recommend the following amounts in Cuban Convertible Pesos (CUC).
Tour Guide: 6.00 CUC per day per person
Tour Bus Driver: 4.00 CUC per day per person
Porters: 1.00 CUC per person or more if you have lots of bags
Restaurant staff: 10% of cost of meal or 1.00 CUC whichever is greater, per meal per person
Chambermaids: 1.50 CUC per day per room (can be split with your roommate)
Taxi Drivers: 10% of total fare in CUC
Health and safety
Cuba is considered among the safest countries in the world with a very low crime rate. However precautions with personal belongings are necessary, do not leave things unattended. Don't wear expensive jewelry, it attracts pickpockets, which are a growing problem. Keep cameras and handbags secure to your person at all times. Participants should use a lockbox at hotels for valuables, travel documents, air tickets, passport and cash.
Always carry some cash in small amounts each day, we suggest between 40.00 and 60.00 CUC. The rest of your money remains in your hotel lockbox, along with your travel documents, valuables and passport.
While Cubans have no problems with the water, we recommend you drink bottled water at all times for peace of mind. A doctor or nurse is available to participants throughout the tour either at your hotel, nearby clinic or en route to destinations.
No vaccinations are necessary or required to enter or travel to Cuba.
Panhandlers and hustlers
We strongly advise against giving money to individuals who approach you on the streets. When an individual approaches you on the street and asks for money, or with offers to provide guide or other services, just say no. Wag your finger back-and-forth with determination (indicating you are not interested) and move on. You risk getting ripped-off. Don't be shy, don't feel bad, and don't let them waste your precious time in Cuba. To do otherwise could cost you heartache and your wallet! Remember, nearly half of every dollar you spend on this trip goes into the island's health care and education system, to Cubans who need and deserve it.
All visitors must set aside 25 CUC for your Cuban airport departure tax.
Here are two important changes recently announced by the US Treasury Department.
1) Persons authorized to travel to Cuba may purchase alcohol and tobacco products while in Cuba for personal consumption while there. Authorized travelers may return to the United States with up to $100 worth of alcohol and/or tobacco products acquired in Cuba in accompanied baggage, for personal use only.
2) Travelers are authorized to acquire in Cuba and import as accompanied baggage into the United States merchandise with a value not to exceed $400 per person, provided that no more than $100 of the merchandise consists of alcohol or tobacco products and the merchandise is imported for personal use only.
Please, visit our Travel Formalities
page for further details. Welcome aboard!